Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Navigating the city: Buenos Aires vs. Boston

September 28, 2011
We've only been here a month and yet I feel I know my way around Buenos Aires better than I ever did around Boston. Even if Boston's roads weren't determined by cow paths, they're still totally helter-skelter. [1] Summer Street crosses Washington Street and becomes Winter Street. Now how does that make any sense?

Buenos Aires much more closely resembles a grid. It's not as easy as New York with its numbered streets and avenues, but it's not that hard to get your head around how the city is organized.

There are a number of major avenues that ring and criss-cross the city. Once you learn those avenues, it's not hard to figure out roughly where you are. And many streets continue for a mile or more, so the key is learning the streets' relative locations to each other.

For example: In Boston, if you told someone you were on Grove Street between Cambridge and Revere, that would only help them if they knew the city well. You could try to give them the major roads that border that area (Storrow, Cambridge and Beacon), but if there were a mile away at the waterfront, that might not help them very much. Here if you tell someone you're on Guermes between Armenia and Malabia, it's much easier to locate those roads. Guermes is south of the major avenue Santa Fe. Armenia and Malabia are west of the major avenue Scalibrini Ortiz.

To be fair, the city is huge, and if you end up far from the neighborhoods you know, you probably won't have any idea where you are. According to Wikipedia, Buenos Aires measures 78 square miles, compared to 48 for Boston (including East Boston, Charlestown, Roxbury, etc.). But that comparison doesn't tell you much since cities define their limits differently (the largest city in the U.S. is Yakutat in Alaska at 9,450 square miles [2]). So to picture the relative sizes, here's an outline of our two neighborhoods (Palermo and Recoleta) on top of a map of Boston:

Made using MAPfrappe.
And here's a map of our two neighborhoods, within the whole city of Buenos Aires:

- Steph

Jumbo-sized Buenos Aires

September 26, 2011
It would be easy to think that Buenos Aires is a city of small shops, but jumbo-sized shopping exists here too, as we discovered when we went to Abasto this weekend. The mall there is easily the largest I've ever been in. It's even big enough to fit a Ferris wheel! Check out the photos.

Yup, that's a pirate ship amusement park ride in the background.
Next door there's a Wal-mart like superstore (or hipermercado). 
- Steph

Good food comes in small packages

September 24, 2011
Just as our home cooking was starting to get boring, we spiced up the menu with two cookbooks. One is titled Argentine Cookery, in English, and includes a history of Argentine cuisine - in a nutshell, a fusion of four indigenous regions with Spanish, Italian, and British imports - along with basic Argentine dishes like empanadas, locro (stew), and asado (barbecue). The second book is titled 200 Recetas Económicas, translated to Spanish in Barcelona from the original London edition, and includes recipes from around the world.

Both books are filled with great recipes and a few quirks. Most of the Argentine recipes, for example, call for "fat" as one of the ingredients. Genuine animal lard, not the late-20th century fakes (margarine or Crisco) that we're used to from the states. I wasn't sure where one acquires this ingredient, but sure enough, right next to the butter and margarine at the supermarket are big blocks of lard. (I haven't decided if I'll use them or be a wimp and substitute margarine; I'm also not sure how one actually cooks with lard, seeing as it comes in a solid block. Presumably one cuts off a piece and heats it.)

The challenge with the translated Spanish cookbook is that some of the ingredients aren't sold here. Or so I thought, until I went to the supermarket tonight, and discovered hidden products I missed on the dozen previous trips. We had trouble finding pesto last week; this time I found four varieties (classic, creamy, olive, and tomato). My plan for dinner tonight (from 200 Recetas) was a curry stir-fry with chicken and vegetables, and I was about to give up on finding coconut milk when I discovered it hiding in the dessert aisle. Another entire aisle was filled with pasta and tomato products. (But still no maple syrup.)

It's worth noting that this was at 9:30pm, and the supermarket was packed, the line at every register backed up ten people - everyone buying ingredients for dinner at 10pm or later. This was the local Carrefour (one of several supermarket chains), which is about the size of a large Walgreens in Boston, much smaller than a Stop 'N Shop. The key to so much variety in such a small space is small packages: milk in liters or smaller, condiments in 250cc bags, meat in packages suitable for one meal. Only the eggs come in extra grande.

Earlier today, we experienced a different kind of shopping, at a Coto hipermercado. It was like Walmart, with two floors: food on the bottom, everything from car parts to mate gourds on the top. Between the produce and meat were racks of self-serve spices and cereal, where we filled up little bags with paprika, curry, cumin, and granola, to be weighed with the produce and stamped with price stickers for checkout. Even here, most products came in small packages.

A friend in Colombia told me that in Bogota, there are two economies, for rich and poor, and visitors can save money by figuring out the cheap local outlets rather than the expensive Western supermarkets. In BsAs, however, that doesn't seem to be the case - they seem to have figured out the mass-budget-retail experience while still keeping a little verduleria on every block. (I'm probably glossing over whatever subsidies or imbalances actually exist in the market, but this is how it looks to a newcomer.)

Between the two cookbooks, there should be enough variety to keep the kitchen well-stocked, the menus interesting, and my tummy happy for the rest of the year.

Dinner tonight
- Ben

Web entrepreneurs meetup

I'm back in a working routine, with a mix of client and startup work and learning some new technologies. Working at home tends to get tiresome after a while. In Boston I used to have a part-time membership at a co-working space. In the last few months there, I organized a few "developer co-working meetups", to get a bunch of developers (who work with different frameworks) to work in the same space for a day, doing their own thing, but also chatting and discovering points of common interest and collaboration.

So I was very excited when I was invited to a similar event here in BsAs, organized by a bunch of fellow web developers/entrepreneurs from Argentina, the U.S., Norway, and Britain. (Some of these guys seem to be from everywhere or nowhere, having lived in a dozen countries so far.) They meet weekly, and I joined them last week. Collectively in the group there were some Ruby on Rails developers, a few BsAs-based software shops, a few startups still at the brainstorming stage, and two expat freelancers including myself. We chatted a little while working, and went to lunch in the middle. The conversations spanned development techniques, mobile market saturation, how to pool resources for sales management, obstacles to starting a business in Argentina, and a lot more.

I love this global entrepreneur spirit, and I hope to continue attending each week.

- Ben

Spanish lessons #5: Political vocab

I did my first interview in Spanish yesterday, for an article on Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. I transcribed the interview later, and in the process, picked up some relevant vocab. 

Fallecimiento — death, passing 
As in the death of former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner
Aflorar — surface, rise
As in a side of Cristina Fernandez surfaced
Escenario —stage 
As in the couple shared the political stage
Oficialismo — governing or ruling party
In Argentina, el Frente para la Victoria (or the Front for Victory)
Vicisitudes — difficulties
As in the difficulties that Argentina has endured in its history
Embates: hardships
As in the hardships the president would endure after the death of her husband

- Steph 

An unfriendly market for foreign brands

September 22, 2011
Nearly all of the products here are labeled Made in Argentina. It's certainly a change from the ubiquitous Made in China and Made in Mexico labels at home. But the flip side of of Argentina's emphasis on homegrown products (or protectionism as it were) is that it's often difficult and expensive to get foreign brands. Here's a look at some of the more amusing results of the trade restrictions, courtesy of the Economist:
Brightstar, a multinational manufacturer, will begin importing kits of the phones’ parts to its factory in Tierra del Fuego, the normal base for cruise ships going to Antarctica. Some 300 workers will brave the frigid austral fog to assemble the pieces and put them in locally sourced packaging. 
Making BlackBerrys south of the Magellan strait will cost $23m upfront, plus $4,500-5,000 a month per worker, some 15 times more than in Asia. But the government touts the project as a triumph of its trade policy. ... 
On September 15th Argentina blocked imports of books, and over 1m piled up at the borders. Imports of Harley-Davidson motorcycles are frozen until 2012.  
For firms that refuse to (or cannot) move production to Argentina, the government offers another option: deals to export goods worth at least as much as a company’s imports. In January customs officials stopped letting Nordenwagen import Porsches. Its cars languished in port for three months before the firm succumbed to a deal. Since its owners also possess Pulenta Estate, a vineyard, they agreed to launch a new line of mass-market wines for export, erasing the family’s trade deficit.
- Steph

Spanish lesson #4: Robbing a bank

September 20, 2011
We watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid tonight and got a good laugh out of the scene where they try to rob a bank in Spanish:

- Steph

Mate: an Argentine tradition

September 18, 2011
That is a mate gourd, a bombilla (or straw) and yerba mate leaves -- the necessary ingredients to make mate, the national drink of Argentina. The harvesting of yerba mate is thought to have begun with the indigenous Guarani tribe during pre-Columbian times.[1] When the Spanish arrived, they exported coffee and tea back to Europe, introducing the Old World to caffeine. But yerba mate never made the transatlantic leap.[2] 

Today it's hard to go a couple of blocks in Buenos Aires without seeing someone sipping the beverage, which is made from a species of holly native to Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Mate (pronounced MAH-tay) contains mateine, a gentler stimulant than the closely related caffeine, which helps release muscle energy and pace the heartbeat without any of the nasty side effects of coffee.[3]

Mate isn't served in restaurants, instead it's a drink shared among friends, and there's a whole set of social rituals that goes along with drinking mate. (We haven't had the chance to share mate with Argentines yet, so more on the social traditions later.)

Yesterday we headed back to the Recoleta crafts fair to find the right utensils for making mate. First you need a gourd. Traditional mate gourds are made of hollowed out calabash. Wooden gourds are popular because they retain the taste of the mate from when they're first cured. Ceramic and metal gourds are also common. Second, you need a straw or bombilla, which is made of silver, nickel or stainless steel, and acts as a filter. Finally, you need yerba mate leaves, which come con palo (with stems) and sin palo (without stems).

To prepare the mate, you fill the gourd about 3/4 full with leaves. You then add hot but not boiling water (in the summer, mate can be served cold). You then sip the mate through the bombilla, refilling the gourd again and again until the leaves have lost their flavor.

Ben was our guinea pig. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera ready quick enough to capture the look on his face when he took the first sip.

Mate is very bitter. It is, as they say, an "acquired taste." After my first sip, I would have said it was roughly as tasty as cough medicine. But we added a little sugar (technically cheating) and kept drinking. I figure it's kind of like having coffee for the first time -- no one takes their first sip of coffee, especially black coffee, and thinks "wow this is delicious." But they keep drinking, and eventually they know the location of every coffee shop within a 10-block radius.

- Steph

Our disappointing lemon libations

September 15, 2011
While the food here is undoubtedly delicious, a lot of it tends to be more of the same. We eat in, we have steak. We eat out, we have steak. So when our guidebook promised "mouthwatering quesadillas" and "excellent margaritas," I was all in.

We even set a date on our calendar: 8 p.m. at the Mexican restaurant. To pass the afternoon hours, we headed to a café near our new apartment, ordered a cappuccino and settled in to wait. As soon as we arrived at "La Fábrica del Taco," we flipped over our menus to peruse the margaritas -- "the house specials." Mango margarita, margarita with avocado, margarita with cilantro, peach margarita.

Not to be waylaid by a confusing exchange about maracuyá (passionfruit), we soon had our Mexican fare. I wouldn't exactly call our tacos mouthwatering, but they were appetizing, if a little heavy on the meat. However, there's not a good word that can be spoken about the margaritas. The reason, it seems, all comes back to limes.

Margaritas in Argentina, even at a Mexican restaurant adorned with lucha libre masks and ornate crosses, are made using lemons. Maybe limes just aren't made in Argentina? I don't know, but someone needs to tell them that margaritas made with lemon aren't margaritas at all.

- Steph


September 13, 2011
Besides the previously mentioned supermarkets, small fruit and vegetable shops called verdulerias are found on almost every block here. Each has a selection of maybe 10-20 products, and they pick the items for you, rather than the self-serve style at the supermarket. (I haven't verified this yet, but I assume this allows them to be a little cheaper than their bigger competition.)

One of the standard vegetables sold at every verduleria is a green vegetable called a zapallito. We bought it as an experiment and decided that it's basically a round zucchini.

The other day, I combined a zapallito with a red pepper (which are enormous here), onion, chicken, and rice, for a very hearty stir-fry.

- Ben

Made in Argentina

Despite its history of immigration and a highly heterogeneous society, Argentina is a fairly protectionist country. It's a member of the regional customs union MERCOSUR, and goods imported from outside the union face a common external tariff. The country had a trade surplus last year equivalent to 5% of exports (source), and its GDP is growing around 7-8%. This is against a backdrop of rising commodity prices (a boon for exports), a monetary and economic collapse only ten years ago, and high inflation (which reduces actual income growth).

The ramifications of this are interesting to observe. Most importantly, nearly every single product in retail stores is labeled Industria Argentina. (In contrast to the prevailing trend in the states, they actually make shit in this country.) Cars are mostly small, like in Europe, and motorcycles are everywhere - I presume this is because of tariffs on imported cars. Compared to TJ Maxx, clothing here is either very expensive, or of very cheap quality.

Food, however, is not expensive compared to what we're used to. Steph calculated that produce in the supermarkets costs between US$.50-$2.00 per pound, cheaper than the range in Boston. But the selection is not what you'd find at Stop 'N Shop. It's hard to find limes, and out-of-season produce like watermelon is nowhere. The "international" aisle at Shaws had ten varieties each of salsa and tortilla chips; here the cuisine is more influenced by Spain and Italy, and Mexican ingredients are harder to come by. The stores are smaller, and food comes in smaller packages; the largest milk container in the supermarket is a 1-liter (1.05 quart) carton.

On the other hand, the supermarkets all carry huge selections of Argentine wines, beers, and imported liquors. Alcohol consumption in Argentina is generally low, by cultural convention, so there's none of the American puritanism imposed on the aisles.

So far, we haven't lacked for anything we need in terms of food. Maybe if we tried to find special Middle Eastern spices, we'd have to venture farther afield than the local supermarket. But the restaurants here are superb and cover a very broad international spectrum, which makes me think everything is sold somewhere if you know where to look.

- Ben

Photos: Out and about on a Sunday afternoon

September 11, 2011
A major avenue near the city's northeastern edge.
The Palermo Woods, which are within easy walking distance of our new apartment.

Ben outside the Museum of Latin American art, which is closed until the end of the month. The website failed to divulge this information.
Since the Museum of Latin American Art was closed, we went to Museo Evita. We'd read it didn't present a nuanced portrait  of the former first lady, but we figured we would learn a bit more about her.  Instead, the museum skipped such large periods, and presented so little information, that we're no better informed than we were before.
The streets of Palermo (our new neighborhood).
On our way home, we saw an alpaca.

- Steph and Ben

Prioridad: café

We have phones, doctors, and a place to live ... but most importantly we have good coffee.

Our first try at homemade coffee came out awful. We're no novices at making coffee, but when confronted with a supermarket aisle of ground coffee, we just picked a bag off the shelf. And we definitely chose wrong. So our first step toward getting our caffeine fix was to buy better starting materials, from the supermarket's pricey coffee bar. We looked slightly like fools, but we got our coffee.

But the key to our success was a whisk. Each morning we brew a strong batch of coffee in our French press. We also warm an equal amount of milk, whisking it so it's sweet and airy. Just mix the two, top it off with some cinnamon and voilà.

It's not quite as good as the espresso-based coffee in cafes, but it's a whole lot better than the sludge we were drinking before. And should it not be up to snuff some days, we stowed these in our suitcase:

- Steph

Spanish lesson #3: Getting a haircut

We both got our hair cut in the last few days. Hair isn't something you want to screw up, so I practiced some new vocab before venturing out.

Hair is pelo, and a haircut is a corte de pelo. To get a haircut is cortarse de pelo. Curls are rizos. I like my hair a little curly, me gusta un poco rizado. I wanted it not too short, no demasiado corto, no more than dos centimetros, and with scissors, con tijeras. Sideburns are patillas.

Vocab rehearsed, I went around the block and quickly found a decent-looking hair salon/barbershop. I was the first customer of the day. I was hoping the barber would strike up a conversation, as barbers tend to do, so I could learn a few more words. But this was a silent one, he didn't say a word after I told him my rehearsed instructions. At least it came out looking nice!

- Ben

Wine stand: free body diagram

September 9, 2011
Turns out we weren't the only ones impressed by our new wine stand. My friend Tom diagrammed the physics of how it works.

- Steph

Photos: Downtown Buenos Aires

We're hoping to get to do a few more touristy things now that we have the boring logistics sorted out. Yesterday we finally made it to downtown Buenos Aires and saw some of the city's old grandeur along with one of its gleaming and exclusive newer districts.

From the Plaza de la Republica. On the right is Obelisco, built to honor the 400th anniversary of the first (unsuccessful) founding of the city.
Walking toward the president's offices.
The Casa Rosada, or the government house, whose color dates to the 1870s when it was common to paint buildings pink. The current shade has been patented as "Casa de gobierno pink."
Puerto Madero, the city's newest neighborhood. The defunct port is now a luxury yacht marina, so we came to look at the sailboats.
On Norte Diagonal connecting Plaza de Mayo and Plaza de la Republica. The Plaza de Mayo "can lay claim to most of the pivotal moments in the history of BsAs... taking its name from the May Revolution of 1810, which freed the country from Spanish rule."
Election posters for President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
- Steph & Ben

Our new apartment!

September 8, 2011
We settled on a new apartment today (the one we're in now is only for September). It has a large terrace, a small but well-equipped kitchen (with an electric juicer), a washer, lots of storage space and a nice living room. It's two blocks from the subway and close to all sorts of restaurants. Says Frommer's about our neighborhood: Palermo has been transformed into the city's chicest destination. Walk through the area and begin to absorb its charms - cobblestone streets, enormous oak-tree canopies, and low-rise buildings giving a clear view to the open skies on a sunny day. Our impression, corroborated by locals (actually one expat), was that Recoleta (where we are now) is a tad too, how shall we say, antiquarian?... and parts of Palermo are a little too raucous at night - but the neighborhood we'll be in is just far enough from the nightlife to sleep, yet still close enough to enjoy, so it seems just right.

The pictures on the website don't really go it justice, but here they are anyway. We'll take some better ones once we move in.

The kitchen and our beautiful terrace. In Boston, we could only use our porch for about three months. We're hoping to get more use out of this one.
The bedroom. The ugly pink bedspread has been replaced by a much more tasteful red and white one.
Our living room. Potential visitors please take note: the couch pulls out into a bed.

For those looking to rent an apartment in Buenos Aires, this is what we learned: The standard Argentine lease is for two years and isn't usually available to foreigners (who don't have a garantia). But there's a market for short-term rentals for which you don't need a garantia (alquiler temporario). A lot of these apartments come furnished, or amoblado. Some realtors list these apartments, but we had heard a lot of agencies just take your deposit without giving you an apartment, so we didn't go this route. Instead we looked on websites that cater to short-term renters (4rentargentina.com, welcome2ba.com, myspaceba.com -- we ended up going with rentinba.com). The price for these apartments is usually all inclusive (taxes, utilities, internet). The website's commission is built into the all-inclusive price, which is fine for 1-3 month rentals, but becomes a significant markup if you're looking for a place for longer than four months. So if you're looking to stay longer-term, you can rework the way the cost is structured, and pay the owner directly plus a one-month commission to the website. Since most real estate agencies ask the same one month's rent as commission, it's a nice way to get an apartment through a more trustworthy source for a pretty good price.

- Steph & Ben

Ducks, dogs and geese, oh my

September 7, 2011
Our afternoon with the Buenos Aires wildlife. (More on the dogs in a future post.)

- Steph

Friendly Argentines

So far Argentines have been nothing but friendly when confronted with our bumbling Spanish. Sometimes Ben meticulously prepares a vocab list, but more often than not we walk into a store with no idea how to ask for what we want. A few examples so far:

"I don't know how to say it in Spanish, but it's the thing you use in the kitchen to open the thing that is like a jar."
-- Abrelatas, or a can opener

"We're looking for the thing you use in the kitchen for cutting. Of wood. You have one in the window."
-- Tabla de picar, or a cutting board

"A quarter kilo of coffee."
[Some words we don't know]
"Umm... For that thing."
-- Café molido para un cafetera de émbolo, or ground coffee for a French press

"When you have a problem in the middle of your tooth."
-- Caries, or cavity (asking the health insurance saleslady about dental coverage)

Aside from a few grumpy riders on a crowded subway train, most Argentines have been delightfully simpático. They smile easily, they've helped us out when we're totally clueless, and despite the lack of lane markers or traffic lights, they haven't even tried to run us over crossing the street.

- Steph

Encounters with Argentine bureaucracy

A recap of our efforts to secure health insurance and cell service.

Cell phone store 1: Hello. We want a plan for our cell phones with data. With data. Data? Data, umm with internet?

Cell phone store 2: Hello. We want a plan for our cell phones with internet. No we don't have a national ID number.

Cell phone store 3: Hello. We want a plan for our cell phones with internet but we don't have a national ID number. 

Cell phone store 4: We're foreigners. We want a plan for our cell phones with internet. No we don't have a national ID number, we're foreigners.


Cell phone store 10: We're foreigners. Can we use our phones in this country? 


Health insurance agent 1: Hello. We're foreigners. Can we have medical care?


Comprehensive health insurance, it turns out, is easy to come by (for a mere $125 per month). But to get comprehensive cell phone service (for a reasonable $40 per month), you need to master a crazy litany of Spanish vocab, waste some shoe leather, and most importantly, find an agent who doesn't believe foreigners are automatically disqualified from using a 3G network.

- Steph

We can now call doctors

September 6, 2011
We acquired two important assets in the last 48 hours: cellular service with internet access, and health insurance. By "we" I mean, Steph did all the work, translated everything for me, and I was an admiring spectator. I'd be up a creek if she weren't so fluent.

(For those following our trip, that's all the pertinent info here, you may move along; if you're a fellow traveler trying to do the same, the details might help you.)

Cellphones: We came with unlocked Droid3 "global" phones, and had gotten a lot of conflicting information. There are three major carriers: Claro, Movistar, and Personal. They all advertise heavily and the market seems competitive. A year or two ago, I was told, it was possible for a foreigner to get a cheap prepaid plan with 3G internet; now the network is saturated, and they're a little harder to come by. One person suggested we forget about 3G. We went to several kiosk stores which weren't helpful, and then the central stores, which were better.

Personal (which I've heard has the best internet coverage) wouldn't give us any data service without a DNI (residence ID). Movistar would for an exorbitant price (US$57 for data only, not including calls and messaging). Claro turned out to be the answer: We signed up for a month-by-month plan, with a deposit that we get back after six months. For 160 pesos (US$38) per person per month, we get a small package of minutes and SMS, and unlimited data. (For comparison, in the U.S., I was paying $90/month to Verizon.) We can buy more minutes if we need, but so far our own two numbers are the only local numbers we have to call.

We signed up for the Claro service yesterday, but the internet didn't work. So we went back today, they did a little research, and it turns out they needed to plug in the Access Point Names manually. (If you have an Android phone with the same issue, the specs are: Name: Claro IGPRS. APN: igprs.claro.com.ar. Username: clarogps. Password: clarogprs999. MCC: 722. MNC: 310. Defaults for the rest.)

So now it works! The phone doesn't seem to be counting the signal "bars" properly - it always shows zero or one bar - but the connection is reasonably fast around here (speed test registers 480Kb/s down and 48Kb/s up). I mostly want it for email and maps, so that should be fine.

Health insurance: Argentina has a dual health care system, with a private insurance market that is reputedly very good and a socialized system that is not. We went with Medicus, one of the big private carriers. For 955 pesos per month (US$228), both of us get full in-network coverage, with no co-pays, plus an internacional plan that covers travel to the rest of the continent and the U.S. I was very skeptical - no co-pays, no referral requirements, no coverage limits inside the network?! - but that's what it is. "Infinito." We have yet to see any doctors, of course, but I think I'll make an appointment promptly.

- Ben

Photo of the weekend: Recoleta cemetery

September 5, 2011

- Steph

Caffeine, cocaine, and scowling waitresses

This weekend, we did some exploring, hunted for apartments online, watched several episodes of The Wire, and perfected our caipirinha recipe. Today we're going out to find realtors in Palermo and figure out the cellular situation.

After I mentioned the other day that I was going to make a list of cellular-related vocab, my friend Josh did it for me on Facebook. But getting a cellular plan with data is complicated here - the network is over-saturated (like everywhere in the world?) so data plans have become more restricted and more expensive - and a contract plan requires a residence ID. We'll write more about this once we figure it out.

The phone in our apartment wasn't working when we arrived, so the landlord called the phone company, which sent a repairman today. He diagnosed the problem as a faulty splitter and replaced it. I didn't understand most of what he said - as with most complex conversations here so far, I'm glad Steph is fluent - but I was impressed with his work. I would grade our first interaction with public utilities in Argentina with an A.

We have yet to find a good brand of coffee in the supermarket. The coffee in the cafés (all espresso-based) has been superb, but our apartment came with a French press, and the brand we bought is pretty awful. It is slightly less awful when made super-strong like Turkish coffee, but for two caffeine addicts like us, that's not going to fly.

On the subject of caffeine: our guide books say Argentine national beverage is maté, a tea made from locally grown herbs. From the descriptions, you'd think it's served on every corner. The craft fair was full of maté gourds. Yet when I walked into a café and asked if they served maté, the waitress gave me a look like I had asked for cocaine. I guess we'll have to make some friends to figure this one out.

It's difficult for foreigners to open bank accounts, so we're relying on U.S. accounts with good foreign exchange rates and ATMs. After lunch at a fantastic restaurant yesterday, we were a few pesos short. So Steph went out in search of an ATM and I stayed as a hostage for la cuenta (the bill)... the restaurant was closing, but I assumed an ATM was around the corner. After fifteen minutes of (possibly imagined) glares from the waitresses, I was about to pay in dollars and go find her. Turns out ATMs aren't always easy to find. A good lesson.

- Ben